And Then There Were Lots! The Challenges of Outdoor Filming

It was always going to be an interesting shoot.

The script, “And Then There Were Two”, follows two older people who, having heard that an imminent meteor strike will end humanity, enjoy their remaining time together by playing with abandoned beach gear – having first released the bonds of everyday life by removing their clothes…

The vision was always that this should be a tasteful and tender film, highlighting a deep-seated love between two people which may not have been apparent to the outside world.

But even tasteful nakedness amongst octogenarians officially constitutes “nudity”, and as such, this led to our first location pulling out, after initial verbal agreement, with a concern over their reputation as a family-friendly beach. Although we explained that we were filming the piece for a family-friendly film, and that the nudity would be minimal – we had the health of our actors to consider, and whilst characters Stan and Rose couldn’t have cared less about catching pneumonia in their last couple of hours on the planet, this was a health risk we wished to avoid for our cast members – the decision had been taken.

Fortunately, a nearby location did not have the same reservations, and the shoot was confirmed for one of the non-public-holiday Mondays in May.

Now it may have been a random Monday in May – but where did all those members of the public come from, just when we wanted to take a deserted beach shot?! Sometimes, it wasn’t just a case of “And then there were two”, but, “And then there were lots”! So many people, so little time!

But with a lot of effort and enthusiasm from cast and crew, we successfully filmed the footage we required, and are now in post-production.

So, for those considering doing an outdoor film shoot, here are a few things that it’s important to consider:

Weather. You have no say in this. Having got everything in place, including crew, cast, and accommodation, rain could still have scuppered our plans. We’d had a wonderfully sunny weekend, but the forecast was looking a bit dodgy for the Monday. And had it rained, we would have had to cancel the shoot, as the Sony FS7 camera was not waterproof – and neither were our cast! The gods were thankfully on our side on the day of filming though, whilst keeping us on our toes, with brilliant sunshine in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon. And a torrential rainstorm missed us by just a couple of miles!

Temperature. It was essential to keep warm yet avoid overheating and sunburn. Most of the acting was done with minimal costumes – mainly floaty tops and sarongs – and crew members had to be close at hand between shots to wrap the actors in insulated “dry robes”. The last thing we wanted was for either cast member to catch a chill. But then there were also scenes when the actors were buttoned up in warm clothing, and of course, this was when the sun came out – so a protective umbrella was needed as a sun shade between shots. Sun cream and hats to reduce risk of sunburn to exposed heads were important too.

Transport. Although we were not allowed to take our own vehicles onto the beach, a helpful National Trust ranger gave us lifts throughout much of the day. This was particularly useful for our initial set up, and for bringing the actors onto set. We certainly noticed the difference at the end of the day, when we were unable to get assistance, and had to make four or five trips on foot between beach and car park, the best part of a kilometre away, to take all the props back to our vehicles before the car park was locked for the night. Whilst I suspect my smart watch may have been exaggerating, it recorded a distance of over 18 km walked during the day! And brisk walking on soft sand is surprisingly tiring!

Other people, dogs, etc. You would think that a random Monday, neither half term nor public holiday, would be quiet. And parts of the day were. But the beach was a dog walkers’ paradise, and we frequently had to wait until dawdlers and canines had passed before filming shots. We also had to explain to some passers-by that we were filming, so they didn’t get too upset about the amount of beach paraphernalia we had randomly scattered around! Also, to those passing close to the set, that there may be the occasional flash of skin from our cast members, which might otherwise come as a surprise! But fortunately, in this most sociable of dog walking areas, everyone was completely cool and unfazed by our activities! At times, we even had to politely ask beachgoers if they’d mind moving, after they’d settled down on the sand or dunes in the background of one of our shots… Thankfully, all were very obliging.

Tides. The sea retreated a long way from the dunes, so we all had a long trek to take our water shots. But of course, no sooner had we started to film than the tide turned, and the sea started coming in again. No matter how many times we moved the footwear and the bodyboard we’d piled the tripod and other bits on, they still seemed to end up in the water!

Props staying put and continuity. Being so exposed, at times it got a bit breezy. This meant that our lovely floaty tops and parasols did not want to stay in place (although we had tent pegs and other items at hand to try to minimise movement!). Whilst this did make our set look even more abandoned than when we had first dressed it, we did have a few issues. Such as a co-producer (i.e. me!) having to inelegantly chase an errant parasol as it somersaulted down the beach – before it was helpfully stopped by a passing member of the public! Whilst this could have proven problematic for continuity, we had already made the decision to utilise jump cuts, so this was not as much of an issue as it could otherwise have been.

Uneven ground and big holes. Having an older cast, we were conscious that we should try to minimise the amount of activity on irregular ground, to reduce the risk of injury. As previously noted, we had quite a long walk to the water’s edge, some of which was on uneven and stony ground. But the sun was shining, so that wasn’t too much of a problem. Later on, when we were back on our main set, one of our actors suggested a dance that wasn’t in the script. It seemed like an excellent idea – although a previous beach visitor had dug a deep hole nearby. As I cautioned that it sounded great, but to mind the big hole, mischief overtook our actor, who danced around then jumped straight down the hole! Minor heart failure on my part! But thankfully no damage was done.

Number of crew members. Although at first glance, this was a straightforward piece, located on a single set, it was actually very complex. We needed several “discarded piles” of beach items, and this took the best part of a couple of hours to set up at the start of the day. Taking other outdoor considerations into account, it would have been helpful to have had another couple of crew members. But that, of course, would have impacted on our budget. As it was, due to the relatively specific nature of the location, i.e. a sandy beach that would accept the filming of a low level of nudity, our options were more limited than they would have been for an indoor shoot, and our budget had to cover transport and accommodation costs, as well as a relatively high level of public indemnity insurance.

The green room. We had originally thought we could use a motorhome as a green room, as we had done in a previous Impact50 film, “Rub A Dub Dub, Two Mates In A Tub”. However, because we needed to locate our set some distance from the car park, in order that we were not beset upon by dog walkers and day visitors for the whole day, our use of this facility was fairly minimal. However, our pop-up gazebo style tent was invaluable on the beach. It provided shelter for the actors, and a bit of privacy for them to get changed in, and to take refreshments. Highly recommended!

Filming “And Then There Were Two” was certainly an unforgettable experience, with much laughter and joy amongst the hard work of the shoot. Our cast and crew were consummate professionals, who managed to help us all forget that there were actually many more than two people and animals with us on the beach on that sunny, windy, cloudy day in May.

Alison Clapham

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